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The County Beat: August 4th Legislative Committee Meetings

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From Amie Acton, 8/10/21

August 4th saw the meetings of four committees of the county legislature in Belmont with most agenda items sailing through, as well as many moments made inaudible due to mics remaining off. As seems to be the case lately, the Human Services Committee had the longest meeting, mostly due to lengthy updates and discussions surrounding COVID. The Personnel Committee had lively and engaging discussion this week largely stemming from the presence of Republican Election Commissioner Brent Reynolds. Here are the highlights:

Public Works

  • Supervisor of Public Works Justin Henry successfully asked to fill a vacant Road Maintenance Supervisor position and transfer funds to make necessary equipment purchases.
  • The 2021 Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day will be on Saturday, September 11 at the Belmont Transfer Station, more information available on the county website
  • More information was requested by Mr Stockin (1) and Ms Hopkins (1) regarding bridges in their district.
    • Mr Stockin had recently been contacted by constituents in regards to the bridge over the Genesee River in Belfast, rte 26. Mr Henry responded that the problems with the bridge were on his department’s radar and they are awaiting approval on submission for funds to repair said bridge. He expected to hear by late fall.
    • Ms Hopkins’ (1) questions revolved around the detour route created for the bridge project on rte 15, specifically the meandering and confusing layout. While Mr Henry indicated he would go out and visit the site and check on the detour he also informed the committee that the project only has three remaining weeks until completion.
  • Before adjournment Mr Healy (2) offered his thanks and appreciation for the work recently completed by the DPW for the bank on the side of the Wells Lane parking lot. The work was an improvement on both the safety and appearance of the lot.
  • A discussion was begun by Mr Barnes (4), much of whose initial inquiry was inaudible due to the mic not being turned on, regarding the cinder block walls in a public bathroom. Mr Fanton (3) chimed in his support, with a live mic, and discussed the importance of the public recreation area mentioned by Barnes and that the county provides some services to. Based on the remaining audible conversation the public recreation area being mentioned was most likely at either Cuba or Rushford Lake. Regardless of which, both Barnes and Fanton felt that, being the closest thing we have to a county park, it should be a first class facility.

Public Safety

  • Both the Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office noted that operations are returning to pre-COVID levels. Their case and work loads are up and they are finding themselves quite busy. Mr Harris (5) asked Public Defender Barbara Kelley for updates on arraignment proceedings, now that they are no longer allowed to be virtual. Ms Kelley then announced she was working with County Administrator Carissa Knapp on finding her replacement as she will be retiring in October after 30 years of service. Ms Knapp shared additional information on the hiring process for this particular position and a question was asked by Mr Barnes (4) however, as before, it was inaudible due to the mic not being on. After giving her report Committee Chair Mr Healy (2) thanked Ms Kelley on behalf of the entire legislature for her service and dedication.
  • Jeff Luckey, Emergency Management and Fire Director, spoke on the memorable flooding from mid-July, noting the hardest hit area was Alma, specifically the Allentown School which took around $750K worth of water-related damage. Luckey had spoken with FEMA regarding financial assistance for this and additional damage throughout the county; unfortunately, their minimum amount is much higher than the current tally of damage from this event. The Emergency Management Department is working with municipalities within the county to get more details on flooding damage in hopes they can apply for emergency funds from New York State. In better news volunteer EMT and firefighter recruitment and training are starting up and the response so far has been encouraging. If interested, get in touch with your local volunteer fire department!
  • Ian Jones stood in for Keith Slep of the District Attorney’s Office. As mentioned above, the number of cases is beginning to rise again, as with the Public Defender’s Office, most likely as a result of COVID interruptions. Mr Barnes (4) asked another inaudible question.
  • Brian Perkins, Youth Bureau Director and StopDWI Coordinator reported a successful week at the Allegany County Fair. Their booth in the exhibition hall gave away around 50 bike helmets to local kids and the winners of the bike raffles will receive their bikes this coming week at the Hornell WalMart. Mr Perkins expressed disappointment that they had to go out of county for this program. The Victim Impact Panel program has been started back up, an initiative giving victims of DUIs the chance to speak directly to the driver who caused them harm.
  • An of note statistic presented by Robert Starks, Director of Probation, was the uptick in truancy case referrals. Like many other changes, this is thought to be tied to COVID as well as students having to do remote learning. Starks is hoping his department can get the Youth Court program started up again and is seeking to hire a new program coordinator. Starks was excited to share news of the Fatherhood Connection Program, a 13-week course for fathers to learn to better engage with and better support their kids. Mr Decker (2) asked whether this program was being advertised, to which Starks said not yet. Overall the committee sounded supportive of the initiative.
  • Gilbert Green of Weights and Measures had a busy month, reporting that by the end of next week all gas station pumps within the county will have been checked at least once. Several needed additional calibration and will require a future visit. Mr Green also provided his expertise free of charge to the 4Hers at the Allegany County Fair as they were weighing their market animals, a service greatly appreciated.
  • Sheriff Rick Whitney shared that the department had sent nine kids from Allegany County to the Sheriff’s Summer Camp, a program sponsored by New York State Sheriff’s Institute. As the name implies, the camp provides many traditional summer camp activities, swimming, sports, arts and crafts, hiking, along with special events to economically disadvantaged kids throughout the state.
    • Ms Hopkins (1) asked for more information about the camp which Whitney provided. Surprisingly the camp is fairly local and is held in Penn Yan at the top of Keuka Lake.
  • Sheriff Whitney reported his office sent a color guard to participate in the funeral of Undersheriff William Timberlake who served Allegany County from 1984 to 2002. Whitney also reported that county dispatchers Ashley Sweet and Chantel Cline received Citizen of the Year awards by the Volunteer Firemen’s Association. Mr Harris (5) then asked for data regarding county dispatch needing to put out multiple tones to volunteer departments for emergencies, often resulting in slower response times. Harris also asked for a comparison between calls answered by volunteer EMS and for-profit MTS. It was implied that the information would be provided by the next meeting.
  • The committee went into executive session to discuss issues of personnel, temporarily ending the live feed.
  • Upon their return the committee heard from Undersheriff Monroe that he would soon be resigning from his position and moving to North Carolina. Committee Chair Healy (2) and the rest of the committee expressed their gratitude and thanks for Monroe’s service after which Sheriff Whitney returned to the podium to express his thanks and best wishes for his colleague. It appears Monroe’s replacement will be sought soon.

Personnel

  • The meeting began with Personnel Officer Robert Budinger asking to create a full time HR Assistant position in anticipation of a large 2022 workload. Mr Harris (5) asked for more clarification of the need and the specifics of the position and the committee voted to approve the request.
  • There was a lot more activity within the chamber when Republican Elections Commissioner Brent Reybolds came to the podium. Reynolds was asking for permission to apply for two grants: one to purchase printers for poll sites to be able to print on-demand ballots on election day and the other to purchase early voting equipment and additional training expenses. Reynolds explained that by purchasing these printers for each poll site the ballots can be printed as needed rather than in advance. When printing ballots in advance the Board of Elections always prints more than they think they’ll need, mainly in anticipation of user error. While this makes it highly unlikely that any poll site runs out of ballots it also means the waste of material and money, Reynolds estimated around $6K/year. The questions went as follows:
    • Mr Harris (5) and Ms Burdick asked for clarification on specifics from Reynolds,
    • Mr Fanton (3) asked a question but was inaudible due to the mic not being on.
    • Mr Decker (2) was concerned about power outages, to which Mr Reynolds responded that each printer would have built-in battery backup
    • Mr Graves (4) wondered if the grant wasn’t given, would they still purchase the equipment, to which Mr Harris (5) responded that it might be worthwhile to purchase regardless of grant money as they seem a wise cost-saving investment
    • Mr Barnes (4), this time audible, expressed concerns over fraud and new laws being enacted in other states in an attempt to suppress this. Mr Reynolds responded that while he felt that requirements such as voter-ID laws were a good idea, the elections system for the State of NY is very secure. Reynolds acknowledged concerns from the most recent election in which voters, using a stylus to sign in, noticed their signatures didn’t match the one they had on file. As voter files are updated before each election, signatures differences are also updated. Reynolds reiterated that the election system for the state was secure.
    • Mr Decker (2) wanted to know what would prevent someone from simply printing off illegal ballots and stuffing them into the machine, to which Reynolds initially responded “you’d have to be insane” to do something like that. He went on to explain that New York State uses paper ballots which are the first step to any vote audit. Suspicious counts can easily be checked by simply looking at the sign in logs, the number of ballots issued, the number of ballots cast, etc. Mr Decker also asked where the grant money was coming from to which Mr Reynolds replied the state.
    • Mr Barnes (4) wanted more information on early voting and the satellite voting site that was in Wellsville this past election. Reynolds spoke well of the turnout, around 3K voters, for early voting at the Board of Elections office in Belmont. Like Mr Barnes, he disliked the state requirement for an additional early voting location. Though he didn’t have the numbers on hand Reynolds stated the number of voters who made use of the Wellsville site was minimal and not worth the additional cost. Reynolds went on to say that, with the support of State Senator Borello and State Assemblyman Giglio he tried to get a variance from the state to exempt Allegany County from this rule. It was, however, unsuccessful though Reynolds indicated it was likely they would try again before the next election
  • Onto less controversial topics, the committee heard personnel-related referrals from other committees, specifically Public Safety and Ways & Means

Human Services

  • The monthly report from the Department of Health was delivered by Jami D’Arcy, Environmental Health Director, as Director Shaw was serving the National Guard. The DoH administered 21 vaccines at the fair and is planning on setting up at the upcoming Cuba Garlic Festival. They have so far administered a total of 12,440 vaccines. Currently there are 11 active positive cases and 29 isolated or in quarantine. None of the active cases are the Delta variant. A legislator, off mic, asked more about Delta to which Ms D’Arcy told the committee that, while they are able to rapidly test for the presence of COVID, they have to send samples out to the Wadsworth Center in Albany. Results can take weeks.
    • Mr Healy (2) asked if there were any plans for giving booster shots, to which Ms D’Arcy responded not at this time.
    • Mr Barnes (4) asked if Allegany County still has the lowest percentage of vaccinated residents in the state, to which Ms D’Arcy had to sadly respond yes. In an attempt to add something positive Ms D’Arcy related that the transmission rate was fortunately low as well. When Barnes asked for an explanation of why there was such a low rate of vaccination, Ms D’Arcy, aiming for non-judgmental, responded that politics was the biggest driver. 
    • Mr Fanton (3) asked whether any of the active 11 patients had been vaccinated and while Ms D’Arcy indicated that there has been some breakthrough of the vaccine she didn’t have a number for the current cases.
  • Moving on, Ms D’Arcy stated that the lead poisoning cases are continuing to rise, which she attributes to the department’s inability to investigate and educate due to COVID restrictions. She concluded her presentation by requesting to transfer funds within the department budget to buy equipment and other emergency response necessities.
  • The biggest item of discussion from the Office of the Aging Director Anita Mattison’s presentation was the contract with Good Times in Olean for providing meals. For several years the rate has been locked in at $4.75/meal and, to the confusion and irritation of several legislators, Good Times is now asking for an increased rate of $5.40/meal halfway through the current contract.
    • Misters Barnes (4), Decker (2), Harris (5), and Fanton (3) peppered Ms Mattison with a variety of questions on the issue: why now, is this the only provider option, is this a common occurrence, is the company simply taking advantage of the COVID situation, etc. Committee Chair Hopkins (1) stepped in, stating that Ms Mattison has done the research and the best option is to stick with the current supplier and pay the increase for the remainder of the contract. On the topic of meals, Ms Mattison reported that they are beginning to deliver more meals to people and, due to a decrease in use of congregate luncheon sites, are piloting a supplemental lunch program with Cafe Jacob in Bolivar. Ms Mattison stressed that this is not a phase out of the traditional senior lunch model, simply a potential addition to services.
  • Also from the Office of the Aging: the office is providing vouchers for seniors to get produce at local farmer’s markets, upcoming event focusing on fraud prevention for seniors to be held at Genesee Valley Central School on August 17th, registration deadline August 10th with the office, and that, despite other reports, there is NO SENIOR PICNIC this year.
  • Edna Kayes, Commissioner for Social Services started off her presentation with good news but with the mic turned off it was inaudible to all but those in the room. She went on to ask for approval to accept, re-appropriate, and transfer various funds within her department budget, some of said funds from the CARES Act. All were approved. Additionally, Kayes asked for the ability to contract with ACCORD for HEAP services and Kinship Family & Youth Services for respite care services. To the legislator’s relief, these contracts only pay out when services are rendered; especially of concern because said services aren’t regularly needed.
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